Reading by Ear: Redwall

Redwall by Brian Jacques
read by a full cast

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Since Reading by Ear is my reread feature, I will eventually begin eating my own tail and re-examining books that I’ve already written about here on the blog, but I’m trying to make a good faith effort to cover as many of the books that I read before college before I start doing that. Given my fickle memory, however, drawing up a complete list is pretty much impossible.

Brian Jacques’ Redwall series was a pleasant episode in my youth: convinced that the only books worthwhile were the ones in series, the seemingly endless Redwall books were a perfect complement to eating Ritz crackers and mild cheddar cheese after school. It’s such a sense memory for me that just listening to this made me want cheese. Although, to be fair, I always want to sit down with a little pot full of goat cheese, so it’s not like that’s hard or anything.

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Reading by Ear: Walk Two Moons

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
read by Hope Davis

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My geographically unstable childhood had, at least, one constant: heat. While it’s dry in southern California and humid here in Georgia, oppressive heat is such a part of my life that I am the most cold-blooded person you will ever meet. A friend, trying to explain how cold-blooded she was, held my hand as proof. “Your hands feel like mine do to other people,” she said. I’m very familiar with M&Ms liquifying in their shells, rearview mirrors melting off windshields, and the covers of paperback books detaching from their contents. One such book during middle school was a copy of Walk Two Moons. Stumbling across the audiobook at the public library, I realized I remembered very little about it, making it a perfect candidate for this feature.

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Reading by Ear: Slaughterhouse-Five

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

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For a very long time, I hated Kurt Vonnegut. More specifically, I hated Slaughterhouse-Five. It was assigned to me during my first or second year of high school, so I was still doing debate and still in the throes of what I like to call “The Wombat Years”—a bad period spanning most of my adolescence that featured bangs, rabid femmephobia, and constant, quiet anger. That last one had a hair trigger, and Vonnegut tripped it by, in my memory, calling Billy’s daughter “a bitch”. (This may or may not actually happen in the book.) I finished the book, since it was for school, but I scowled more than usual all the way. I am no longer a wombat, but that loathing remained. I did know I’d have to revisit this eventually for Reading by Ear—I just didn’t read that much as a kid, y’all!—but I was expecting the worst. And all I’ve got to say is praise and hallejulah, the Wombat Years are behind us.

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Reading by Ear: The Scarlet Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
read by Michael Page

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I’m pretty sure I read The Scarlet Pimpernel once. I think. I’m not sure how much of my mediocre memory is me and how much of it is my ability to repress anything at will (developed by child Clare, who you should always picture as a wombat with awful bangs and a perpetual scowl), but the fact remains: there are great, big, honking holes in my reading record. Given how much effort I’ve been putting into maintaining my reading record since coming of age, I really wish I’d written down more. All I remember about this possible reading of The Scarlet Pimpernel is rolling my eyes at Marguerite for not realizing who the Scarlet Pimpernel was. Oh, adolescence. That’s half the reason I do this feature, you know; to revisit texts I read while clearly out of my mind.

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Reading by Ear: The Lord of the Flies

The Lord of the Flies by William Golding

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Unlike almost all of my childhood reading, I read The Lord of the Flies around the same age it’s commonly assigned to American schoolchildren. But I don’t ever recall reading it for school—I came across a copy that may have belonged to my brother among my parents’ haphazard library and picked it up. I don’t know how much I absorbed, without a guiding hand, but I do know that I’ve, more or less, always said “she’s got the conch!” whenever I encounter people who interrupt. I’m starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel for audiobooks of books I read before I started the book blog, so The Lord of the Flies presented itself in pretty short order after my last listen.

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Reading by Ear: The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
read by Frank Muller

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I didn’t pick up The Great Gatsby just because the film’s coming out in a few months. I mean, it is a major factor in my decision, I’m not going to lie. (Can we talk about how Jack White’s cover of “Love is Blindness” is amazing? Because it is.) No, I picked it up because, despite the fact that this is the novel most kids are taught the beginnings of literary criticism on in American high schools, there are still unplumbed depths. One of my peers here at Agnes wrote her senior thesis on Great Gatsby on a topic that, to the best of our research, hasn’t been written on seriously. Texts like that—well, those are the texts I like the most.

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Reading by Ear: Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
read by Christopher Hurt

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Like many American teenagers, my first exposure to Fahrenheit 451 came in high school, although Bradbury was definitely a staple of those reading anthologies I was assigned during my primary education. (I once got to go to the room where they kept all the textbooks they handed out. It was magical.) It was used in my freshman English class, where the teacher played the Empire Today jingle ad nauseum while the students were talking, to illustrate the difficulty of Montag trying to memorize the Bible on the subway. That was eight years ago (man!), so it was high time to revisit this classic sci-fi novel.

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Reading by Ear: The Ruby in the Smoke

The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman
read by Anton Lesser

Back in high school, I read the first three books of the Sally Lockhart Quartet in sort of a breathless week or so. I was still sorting out how to ferret out books I might like, and had hit upon the tactic of going through the back catalog of every writer I knew I liked. (This is no longer my approach to books, but it is my approach to music, which has, in recent months, helped me discover my love for The New York Dolls.) Philip Pullman, by virtue of His Dark Materials, was a prime candidate. I remembered them fondly but vaguely when I picked up this audiobook to revisit it, but perhaps I should have left it on the shelf…

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Reading by Ear: The Princess Diaries

The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot
read by Anne Hathaway

The Princess Diaries movie came out when I was ten, and I remember watching it. It was one of those live-action Disney movies that peppered my childhood, since grasping the concept of network television would take another five years. I liked it, as it involved Julie Andrews, San Francisco (I spent a lot of my single-digit years a few towns down), and Anne Hathaway, who, although I did not know it, was probably a factor in my thing for tall dark femmes. (In researching this post, I just learned that Liv Tyler was up for the role of Mia. My allegiances! They are being tested!) In any case, I did have and read the first one or two books in the series, but they didn’t make much of an impact, which made it a perfect candidate for an audiobook for me.

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Reading by Ear: Anansi Boys

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
read by Lenny Henry

Anansi Boys was one of the first novels I specifically went out and bought that wasn’t a Harry Potter book or a FoxTrot anthology. (Yes, that’s all I read as a child.) I’d already read and loved American Gods—that first chapter stunned wee Clare into a kind of reverent silence, which was not easy to do—and when I discovered Anansi Boys existed via an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, I hied myself down to the Books-a-Million and bought myself a copy. I was so careful with books as a kid; I remember reading this only at night, right before bed, so I wouldn’t damage the gorgeous cover.

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